NORTH TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller is proud to be a United States Air Force veteran. He served during the Vietnam War era in which 58,200 Americans lost their lives, including his brother-in-law.
It especially saddens him when thinks back to when many of his fellow comrades lucky enough to return home were treated with disrespect, particularly vets with substance abuse and mental health issues.
Miller calls it a travesty that almost four decades later thousands of those men and women are homeless.
A number of them are among the 250 veterans in Hillsborough County with no permanent roofs over their heads.
“It’s not right that our veterans who made sacrifices for our country find themselves in the streets,” Miller said.
With that thought in mind he was thrilled to be present at the Palms at University Apartments recently to witness a gathering of about a dozen county employees sprucing up and stocking several of the complex’s two-bedroom units with bedding, food and other household supplies alongside a group of men who delivered and set up sofas, beds and dinette sets donated by Ashley Furniture.
The team effort was in preparation for Operation: Reveille, a Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative that unfolded on Veterans Day at Channelside in downtown Tampa. A total of 53 veterans were granted rent-free housing for up to a year in various living facilities throughout the county.
Included among them are the selected units at Palms at University Apartments, properties formerly owned by Catholic Charities and acquired by the county through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
The veterans also are being connected to intense case management services, employment assistance, health care, substance abuse and mental health treatment, veterans benefits, financial counseling and more.
The $1.3 million program was made possible through a combination of public and private funds.
Felicia Rucker, Hillsborough County Director of Homeless Services, said Operation: Reveille is in response to the national initiative to end veteran homelessness by 2015 in conjunction with the Veteran Administration’s 25 Cities Initiative to end homelessness in communities with the highest concentration.
“The collaboration of faith-based organizations, government entities, corporate sponsors and service providers has been amazing,” said Antoinette Hayes Triplett, chief executive officer of the Tampa Hillsborough Homeless Initiative.
County Commissioner Sandy Murman also stopped by Palms at University Apartments to see their combined efforts play out.
“It’s nice to see all the organizations working together toward this end,” she said. “If we all work together, we can solve this problem.”
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]